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The fourth outside linebacker is around

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2017 – 11:11 am

The news Deone Bucannon won’t play Sunday — not a huge shock, even without the setback of an ankle sprain — puts on hold what the Cardinals will do with rookie Haason Reddick when Bucannon, Reddick and Karlos Dansby are all available. Reddick will be needed to play in Bucannon’s role, at least in certain packages.

But it also goes to that concern lingering as soon as the Cards cut to 53 and, at least outwardly, the team only kept three outside linebackers. What about depth? What about a fourth behind Markus Golden, Chandler Jones and Kareem Martin? Coach Bruce Arians mentioned that veteran Philip Wheeler, signed as an inside linebacker, worked in practice recently on the outside and can play both spots. Defensive lineman Josh Mauro has occasionally taken reps at OLB and could serve there in a pinch, especially on running downs. But then there is Reddick.

Reddick, who played defensive end in college, slowly has gotten some reps as an outside ‘backer to build on his work on the inside. And once Bucannon is back, Reddick makes the most sense as a dual-threat guy, someone who can play on the inside in certain packages, who can rush the passer in certain packages, and who can also serve as that fourth guy behind Golden, Jones and Martin.

Again, versatility has been one of the hallmarks of the players GM Steve Keim has sought, especially on the defense. The linemen can play anywhere. The linebackers, mostly, can switch around. The defensive backs are interchangeable. That is how the Cards will solve that fourth OLB issue.


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Keim: A few spots left and CJ2K’s place

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2017 – 8:13 am

Steve Keim figures there are four or five spots still left to be determined on the 53-man roster, with one preseason game left and the starters not playing Thursday. It seems that one would be at running back. It makes sense the Cardinals would only keep four running backs. David Johnson is in. Kerwynn Williams, as a back and return man, is in. (T.J. Logan will be going on injured reserve.) If you keep four, that would leave two spots for Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington and Elijhaa Penny. Penny, who is the only one of the three who plays special teams, seems to be trending as a guy who gets a spot. So does a final spot for to Johnson — who fumbled twice Saturday before coming back with a couple of good runs — or Ellington?

Keim, during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday, kept it vague when talking about Johnson’s situation. “I’m not going to critique Chris on the radio,” Keim said. “The one thing I’ll say is that he’s a pro’s pro, he gets it, and it’s not just his performance in one preseason game that is going to make a difference. It’s the body of work throughout camp that Coach and I will look at and we’ll determine the best 53 and more importantly, who is really going to be active on game day?”

(Johnson, for his part, feels like after an offseason off, he is finally getting his game legs under him.)

— The positions still most in the air, in Keim’s eyes: Punter, a fourth outside linebacker, inside linebacker and offensive line depth. Cap Capi flashed as he tries to make a push for a final OLB spot, but the Cardinals may still be looking for a fourth guy who may not be on the roster. Jarvis Jones was supposed to be that guy but he’s been hurt virtually all of camp.

— Keim did say the third OLB spot deservedly goes to Kareem Martin. “There’s no player who has worked harder this offseason than Kareem,” Keim said, calling him the most improved of anyone on the roster.

— Keim was happy to see John Brown play well. “We all know the player John Brown can be when he is healthy,” Keim said. “He is a dynamic player who can create mismatches, which is something we desperately need from him.” Keim added that Brown is a “very important part of this puzzle,” singling out Smoke and Tyrann Mathieu as the guys who change field position.

— Keim admitted he wasn’t feeling great about Brandon Williams early in camp but that the second-year cornerback has completely changed his mind. “I feel like we have four solid corners, which is a sigh of relief,” Keim said.

— The wide receiver group responded to Bruce Arians tough words. Keim said that has shown not only on the field but “they got out of the training room,” underscoring that Arians’ frustration a couple weeks ago may have been a little bit less about play and more about availability.


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Cardinals — on the basketball court?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 19, 2017 – 1:59 pm

Late in the season, the Cardinals’ offensive linemen installed one of those mini-basketball hoops above one of their lockers. Every once in a while, after practice, somebody (or somebodies) would take a few shots. There’s no question that over the years, plenty of players have come through that space thinking they were quite the basketball players.

Anquan Boldin could play. Kurt Warner could really play (and still does, hosting invite-only pickup games at his house in Scottsdale). Josh McCown could really play.

With the NBA all-star game today, it’s a good time to discuss who might make a solid unit for the hardwood. I’ve had the chance to talk to a handful of players about their basketball backgrounds. (I have not talked to everyone, and I am sure I will have inevitably missed some serious baller here. I ask, preemptively, for forgiveness.)

You’ve got to start with Darren Fells. The guy played pro basketball, after all. Larry Fitzgerald still likes to trash-talk Fells, and at one point there was a challenge of a one-on-one game, but I’m guessing Fitz wouldn’t like how that would turn out. Still, I’ve seen Fitz enough times in charity games that he probably could be in the starting lineup.

Our point guard would be Tyrann Mathieu, who might not quite be the same player as he was prior to a pair of ACL injuries, although I’m guessing he’d say different. (That video doesn’t exactly show the Badger against the best defense.) Calais Campbell, who at 6-foot-8 did some damage inside in high school, can be our center. And you don’t want to forget David Johnson (15.7 points, 7.9 rebounds a game as a senior in high school, and second-team all-state), who noted on Twitter he’s got a 41.5-inch vertical.

Off the bench? Kareem Martin, who played football at North Carolina, had a chance to walk on to the Tar Heels basketball team and maybe be the next Julius Peppers. Martin decided to concentrate on football, but you’ve got to have some game to be considered for UNC hoops. Some Earl Watford (Earl had some good stories about being the muscle on the court for his high school team), and a little A.Q. Shipley (A.Q., while shooting on that mini-hoop, assured me that back in the day, he was quite nimble on the court). Close it out with Tony Jefferson, who plays pretend basketball in the locker room with the trash cans more than any player ever and loves his Suns. (Yes, Jefferson was cut as a sophomore in high school, but noted that he had 16 points and five steals in his final lower-level high school appearance, so there’s that.)

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Broncos — and preseason — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 1, 2016 – 11:32 pm

It’s late, it’s the fourth preseason game, and the reality is not much can be said until final cuts are made. So this aftermath will be short and sweet. There were some “stars” Thursday night — Elijhaa Penny ran the ball really well — but then you hear Bruce Arians talking about Stepfan Taylor being one of the core guys on special teams and you remember that many of these roster spots have already been determined, the process of seeing all these guys over offseason workouts and an entire training camp and three previous games.

(Still, if a guy like Penny isn’t picked up on waivers, I can’t see how he wouldn’t be on the practice squad.)

I tweeted late in the game that if I had a do-over on my guess at the 53, it’d be that Lamar Louis would make the team. He’s impressed, and more importantly, Arians keeps talking him up. We’ll see. Special teams is the key to these final couple of spots, Arians stressed, and Louis is playing well in that area.

— Special teams will be impacted with the short-term loss of linebacker Kareem Martin. Martin hurt his MCL and Arians said they are hoping he’s only out two or three weeks. You have to wonder, if fellow linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo hadn’t gotten hurt earlier (it was announced as a right knee; Arians said after it was a hamstring) and was still playing if Martin even would have been on the field. Bad luck all around.

— In terms of outside linebacker depth, if Martin is down, Arians said Alani Fua can play outside as well as inside. And if anyone was unsure if Fua was going to be on the team, there’s your answer.

— Earl Watford had never played left tackle in a game. Now he has. Could the Cardinals go with just three backup OL right now — center Evan Boehm, perhaps guard Cole Toner and Watford, who can play every position? Watford can play all five positions and will be the sixth offensive lineman.

— The Cardinals have run the ball very, very well all preseason. Bodes well.

— Robert Nkemdiche played well, in different spots, and was in on a sack late.

— Not a great night for the top cornerbacks. Justin Bethel sat out because of his foot. Brandon Williams didn’t have one of his better games, but it was better than Cariel Brooks, who was in position to be the fourth cornerback and did not play well at all.

— Nice pick-6 by ILB Gabe Martin late in the game, but I’m not sure it was enough to make the team. Would they keep Martin over veteran Chris Clemons?

— I don’t expect cuts to be announced before the weekend, even though Arians was talking about hard decisions being made Friday.

— Finally, a 59-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro, which would have been the second-longest in team history had it been in the regular season (Jay Feely booted the 61-yarder against Buffalo in 2012). Will Cat Man have chances like that in the regular season?

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Cardinals to sign Freeney

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2015 – 11:53 am

Nothing official yet — until the ink is on the contract, it rarely is — but it looks like the Cardinals will be signing veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney to a one-year contract to bolster the pass rush. Given the history both Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher have with Freeney (they coached him in Indianapolis) it fits, and after Alex Okafor hurt his calf Sunday and figures to miss time, they need more help out there to go with LaMarr Woodley, Kareem Martin and rookies Markus Golden and Shaq Riddick.

(UPDATE: It’s official now.)

Freeney had 3.5 sacks last season for San Diego before he was released in the spring. He was generally regarded as a player who consistently got pressure on the quarterback in a limited pass rushing role. How quickly he can add to the Cardinals remains to be seen, since he didn’t have an offseason with a team or a training camp. But it is reportedly another of GM Steve Keim’s minimum-salary deals with incentives, so the upside remains greater than the downside, which is how this team has been built.

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Depth spills on two fields (and other OTA notes)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2015 – 10:52 am

The Cardinals opened the final week of OTAs Monday (the mandatory minicamp is next week, and then the players are off until training camp.) Nothing eventful, although the rising temperatures played into some mistakes late, coach Bruce Arians said. Some tidbits from the day:

— The depth on the front seven — or maybe the uncertainty — has been on display because of the second practice field. Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, defensive end Ed Stinson and newly crowned linebacker Kareem Martin are all taking reps on the second field even though all figure to be a part of the rotation.

“I wants those guys to get more reps too,” Arians said of having them on Field Two. “But that is the depth we have. Those positions right now, it’s a dogfight.”

— The Cardinals were working on the no-huddle a lot Monday, and Arians said he thinks the offense will use it more often this season. (More on the subject soon in Kyle Odegard’s notebook on the homepage.) At this point, with Carson Palmer still not taking part in 11-on-11, he can’t work in that facet of the no-huddle.

— Arians was asked about Larry Foote’s timetable if he wanted to give up coaching and try to play again. Arians said Foote would have to make a decision by the time training camp were to begin. Foote said the other day he was only thinking about coaching at this point.

— RB Kerwynn Williams is out right now with a hamstring issue, joining the same rookies who have been out: OLB Zack Wagenmann (foot) OLB Shaq Riddick (hamstring) ILB Alani Fua (foot). Riddick tried last week one day to give it a go but ended up sitting out again. Arians said there is no question the fifth-round pick is falling behind. “You can’t make any progress in the training room,” Arians said.

— Arians clarified his comment that first-round pick D.J. Humphries was a little immature at this point. “You’d like to see steady improvement,” Arians said. “He’s only 20, 21 years old. He’s a college kid still and this is a professional league. But he’s figuring it out fast.”

— A couple of quality Arians quips today. On whether he can wide receiver John Brown has added some muscle. “I don’t know. He’s still little.” And when he was asked how much rookie running back David Johnson might take off the plate of Andre Ellington, Arians said “Dave is not in the picure yet,” adding, “he ain’t getting s*** yet.”

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OTAs open with a determined Palmer, and other notes

Posted by Darren Urban on May 19, 2015 – 11:07 am

The Cardinals had the first of their 10 organized team activities of the offseason this morning. Coach Bruce Arians called it crisp and noted the work got done quickly enough that the team ended early. Quarterback Carson Palmer looked good in limited work — more on Palmer’s drive to get back on the field in a bit when I have a story on the homepage — and Arians said there is a chance that Palmer could be back for even more reps (regular reps?) by the time the Cards reach their minicamp in mid-June. I’ll admit, when they said that once upon a time I was thinking it was much too optimistic, but clearly, Palmer has a good chance to prove me wrong.

Some other quick notes/thoughts from the first OTA:

— The draft class is doing work on Field 2 during 11-on-11 (except for OLB Shaq Riddick, who tweaked his hamstring last week.) D.J. Humphries is the third-string left tackle for now, a long way from usurping Bobby Massie. Arians said the rookies have a lot of work to do to get on Field 1, although it could happen as we go. (This is the first of the draft classes from Keim/Arians that I can remember all the draftees on Field 2. Usually someone is working on the main field.)

— Arians praised everyone’s conditioning but he particularly noted the good shape of guard Jonathan Cooper and wide receiver Michael Floyd.

— Speaking of Cooper, Arians was asked if Cooper was better at knowing when to “gut it out” and play. Arians said it’s tough to gut it out when you are simply injured as Cooper had been, including his broken leg. “You can’t gut out broken bones, unless you’re Jack Youngblood,” Arians said. “Then the coach gets sued these days. Back then, it was cool.”

— As I’ve noted before, Matt Shaughnessy has moved to defensive end in the 3-4, which Arians called his more natural spot. He’s flipped with Kareem Martin, who is at linebacker now.

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Palmer on field as Phase 2 begins

Posted by Darren Urban on May 4, 2015 – 11:33 am

The caveats: In Phase 2 of the offseason program, there is no defense and there are no helmets. The work is only one hour. Offensive and defensive players are working on separate fields. But in terms of good signs, Carson Palmer taking snaps as the first-unit quarterback — after tearing his ACL in November — has to be considered as one. Palmer was out there and, aside from the knee brace, didn’t look any different than last offseason as he threw passes. (We’ll have more in a homepage story later today.) This doesn’t mean Palmer is ready to play in a game, or even that he’ll be able to do a lot during OTAs or minicamp. We’ll see on all that. But it definitely underscores the optimism Palmer has for training camp.

A couple of other notes from this still-voluntary phase:

— The rookies are not here yet. They arrive Thursday afternoon with rookie minicamp starting Friday.

— The first-unit offensive line looks as expected right now: From left tackle to right tackle, it was Jared Veldheer, Mike Iupati, Ted Larsen, Jonathan Cooper, Bobby Massie.

— Not only is Kareem Martin getting work at outside linebacker, but it looks like Matt Shaughnessy working as a 3-4 defensive end after playing linebacker in 3-4 alignments previously.

— First-unit safeties on this first day were Deone Bucannon and Rashad Johnson.

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Sam Acho heads to Bears

Posted by Darren Urban on April 1, 2015 – 11:20 am

It was becoming pretty clear the Cardinals were going to move on from linebacker Sam Acho once he hit free agency, but that became official Wednesday when Acho signed a one-year contract with the Bears. Acho flashed as a rookie in 2011 with seven sacks, although never quite found that pass-rush level again. His 2013 was cut way short after he broke his leg. Last season he had 46 tackles and one sack — in the finale — in a reserve role.

There is little question about Acho the human being, however. A better person you won’t find. Any interaction with a fan — and he made sure to do that plenty — led to that fan being his fan. It was nearly impossible to do otherwise. I happened to talk with him a bit at a Suns’ game last month and at the time — right after the initial binge of free agency — Acho said he was probably going to lay low for a bit. At that point, it seemed like his time as a Cardinal had passed, unless he might return post-draft had the team not found a replacement. Now, the Cardinals need to work on building their outside linebacking corps, with the only ones under contract right now Lorenzo Alexander, Alex Okafor, Matt Shaughnessy and LaMarr Woodley. Kareem Martin will also get work there this offseason, but taking one with in the first round of the draft remains a strong possibility.

You can read the farewell statement Acho wrote right here.

Acho, meanwhile, will leave a lot of happy memories with fans in Arizona, like this little girl after a Flagstaff training camp practice in 2012.


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The tao of Arians: “Dude, you got a cup”

Posted by Darren Urban on March 25, 2015 – 8:39 am

Bruce Arians talked for an hour today on a lot of subjects at the NFC coaches breakfast during the NFL spring meetings. We’ll have a lot of stories and video on the various topics today and in the coming days. Among the things Arians touched on:

— The Cardinals would still like to bring back Lyle Sendlein to compete for the center position;

— Logan Thomas will get a ton of reps in the offseason and could even get some “field one” work (the Cards have players working on two fields) depending on the health of Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton;

— There was nothing to say on Adrian Peterson (“Are you trying to get me fined?” he said);

— The Cardinals will look at Kareem Martin at outside linebacker. Arians thinks Martin has the body-type of Aldon Smith.

— He wants DE Calais Campbell to be more consistent, saying “he disappears too much.”

There was much more. But the line of the day came when Arians was talking about the reluctance of General Manager Steve Keim to accept his award for Executive of the Year from the Sporting News the other day in front of the other GMs and coaches. The trophy itself was a big glass vase-looking thing.

“You check your ego at the door, because everything is for the Cardinals,” Arians said. “We’ve both been fortunate enough to get some accolades. You can’t take them. The entire room got you there. Don’t think you’re special. We both laughed, he was embarrassed as hell the other day to get his. I said, ‘Dude, you got a cup. We can drink out of that.”


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